Flint, Syria, and Simsbury

As humans we care about injustice, pain, and suffering – even when it is far from us. Some of us connect emotionally. Others do not, but we still recognize that we have some power to help. We have limits to how much we can do. For this reason I often hesitate to jump on the “We should all ______” bandwagons. Nevertheless, there are real problems in the world that we can support. In Matthew 23, Jesus offers an eerie teaching that states His followers are those who inexorably helped the widow, the orphan, the one without clothes or food. We move to help when and where we can.

I have a good friend pastoring in Flint, Michigan. If this particular crisis stirs your heart, please consider praying and/or giving. Pete Scribner, their pastor, has a wonderful blend of justice and a desire to love well – in a sustainable way that begins the loving work of evangelism. He and I served together in Saint Louis for years and he is a dear brother.

When the Refugee crisis first swelled from a news standpoint, I researched the organizations in CT that can actually take in refugees. They needed end-tables at the time. Do you see how giant these problems are? I contacted a few folks who know more about this than I do, and it was not clear that we had a role as a church to me. I felt helpless, even as I prayed and gave a bit of money to an organization on the ground.

Our denomination has done good work getting folks on the ground providing tangible support and also some medium-length sustainable efforts to help the refugees.

Here is an email explaining two of the ways we are serving (and I say ‘we’ because if you give to Covenant Presbyterian Church, we have already sent along some money and that came from our general offering)

“Many of our churches have asked how they can help the refugees from Syria and other parts of the persecuted Middle East. I wanted to let you know how you can get involved through EPC efforts. Currently, we have two direct paths:

  1. EPC Syrian Refugee Relief Fund
    1. Provide Bibles in local language
    2. Provide food, clothing, medical, and discipleship materials to refugees
    3. Send language-fluent EPC disciple-makers to spend time with refugees
  2. Blanket Them With Hope Project (In this link is also a video about current efforts)
    1. Provide funding to offer training to refugee women in skills to make blankets for their family and income opportunity
    2. “Purchase” blankets from refugee women to cover the cost of the blanket and provide some income. Blankets would then be distributed locally to those in need.





Love of Neighbor and Safety

I just finished a very very well-written piece by a pastor in Memphis, Tennessee. He is a heady fellow and very good with words. My encouragement is that you read slowly. I had to.

With one exception (literally, one sentence…) I whole-heartedly recommend all of this as the Christian perspective. The reason: Pastor Huffman lives easily in the tension of safety (which matters) and love for stranger/alien/neighbor. Both matter. This is a dialectic matter – not all politically charged issues are. Neither ‘side’ is unbiblical, off their proverbial rocker, etc. Many of the individuals on both sides are; such is humanity.

This will not be solved quickly or with Bible verses. We read the Bible, but verses should not be used to batter the other side. At least not with this particular issue.

Immigration as a spiritual issue is close to you. Whether you live in the city of Saint Louis where 60 languages are spoken within a 3 miles radium or the suburbs of Hartford, walled in by ‘mountains’ and slowly connected by old cattle trails. There are neighbors for us to love. Safety matters and so does our belief that Jesus loved the stranger and calls us to the same.

Some Thoughts

I do not want attention; especially on the shoulders of the Paris terror attacks. But, many look to me to help them spiritually. How do I think, in light of what has happened? If the Gospel is true, how do I pray for those in Paris? Do I have another role when I am moved emotionally and spiritually by these things? So, I chose to write something brief, trusting that those who want to know what I think will look hard enough and forgive my lack of interest in a splashy title.

If you are a follower of Jesus, please pray before doing anything on Social media. And then, after you pray, please don’t believe the lie that it is important that you say something. I’m not saying do or do not say anything, although I strongly encourage you to pray before doing anything else, I’m simply saying it is a lie that we all need to tell the world, as it were, our perspective.

There is another lie also. That our prayers do not matter. This is not true. They matter and they are not separate from the rest of your life (perhaps a lie, or at least a misunderstanding of our interconnectedness).

For me, it was helpful to pray the Lord’s prayer very slowly, clause by clause, and picture what I know is going on in Paris. These prayers matter.

Secondly, here are two articles that helped me interact intellectually with this particular moment. One is from Christianity Today and another is by Anne Lamott. These sent me back to prayer, for different reasons. I post them here not because I expect you to agree or disagree, but because we often cannot turn off the news and I found them helpful. So, if you want to read something – perhaps these will encourage you.

What Job teaches about money

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I like to do video introductions to sermon series, but the office is abuzz with extra work this week so I’m taking to the blog.

For the next 3 weeks at CPC we will look at some of the Wisdom Literature teachings on money. Specifically, what does the book of Job say about money, then Proverbs, and finally Ecclesiastes (one sermon each). This section of the Bible is often overlooked and misunderstood. But, it is titled this way for a reason – some of the most helpful-in-life teachings are from the Wisdom Books in the Old Testament. And, spending a few weeks zeroing in on the money teachings, which are embedded in especially these 3 books, will greatly encourage us.

The story of Job is not about money. But, he has a lot at the beginning and even more at the end. Therefore, what he says, what his friends say (which is later discounted), and what God says (and does not say), is important as we develop a framework for the Scripture’s teachings on money. From the beginning of the Bible to the end of it, money is seen as neither good nor evil in and of itself. Therefore, the good use and enjoyment of it requires wisdom. In our religiousness, we can often hate money and desire some life where we “just don’t have to worry about it anymore” (this statement has multiple lies embedded in it). And, in our irreligious moments we just wish we had a billion dollars (or 2, if we already have 1), thinking then we could do what we want if we had seemingly unlimited funds and… similarly… we would not worry anymore.

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In the Wisdom Literature, and in Scripture generally, there is a greater freedom than either loving or hating money and I look forward to unpacking these things over the next few weeks at the Barn.

PS – I’m aware that many of us get nervous when a pastor speaks about money. I think I get that. If you do not think I do, please shoot me an email. In the meantime, I agree that pastors often speak poorly about money. But the answer is not silence. It is to speak well about money – because there is freedom and life to be found in the Scriptures. Not freedom to give all of your money to the church, but freedom to learn to steward as God would have us – for His glory, our own enjoyment, and the sake of our neighbor.

Church is a family on mission

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I preached these words a few weeks ago, in the context of the final verses in Colossians.  Last week I teared up because we are sending a family off to Saint Louis for the husband to pursue Seminary training.  In the moment I thought, “Does my sermon matter as much as this moment – which embodies both doing family and remembering our mission?”

However, after church a good friend mentioned that he was sad that I miss Saint Louis so much.  I was confused.  I mean, it’s a great city, but I don’t miss ‘it’ terribly.  When I choked up, that was why he thought that I was emotional.  I didn’t think much about it because this man is not always to be trusted.  ;).  Then, my wife told me she had the same reaction.  And last night another friend told me the same thing.  When I told her the truth – that I will miss the family – she said, “I didn’t know you were that close.”  “We aren’t really.”  But, as their pastor, there is level of emotion and care that bolsters the friendship.  I love them more than I know them.

Church is a family on Mission and we will miss the Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 2.18.42 PMCarrolls.  I like Saint Louis fine, but that is not why I felt strong emotion last Sunday.  Pastor.  Friends.  Church.  Spiritual Friendship.  Community.  Sending.  Those are the reasons.

Inside Out

There is so much on my heart and mind.  I just re-read something my wife wrote 6 years ago, and it is still helpful, beautiful, and encouraging.

Charleston weighs heavy on my heart.

I’m sad about the number of people that think the sky has fallen due to the SCOTUS ruling.  I’m sad about the number of people that think the world is saved by the SCOTUS ruling.

But, I do know this – you should consider seeing the wonderful movie “inside Out”.  I took my 9 year old a few weeks ago and it gave a depth and breadth to our communication we have never had.  I pray and hope it lasts.  The movie is smart, funny, and poignant.  One of my favorite things about it is set amidst regular life.  The entire movie functions within our frame of reference and experience.  This is one of the reasons it helps Caroline and I talk.  She isn’t relating to talking dogs and a floating house.  Or, my other personal favorite, a robot who makes boxes of trash.

Reposted for your encouragement

My beautiful, futuristically sexy wife (in the future we realize hair is not sexy) is asleep.  Grace amidst pain.  She walked – brave.  She eats and I am grateful.

This is our view.

I was sick a few years ago, and she wrote a few words on my blog.  They apply again, she encourages us again.

“I think we come up with new questions all the time. And there is still fear of the disease as well as the treatment. And there are lots of questions about the future- the impact the surgery & chemo will have on matt’s last semester of seminary, how this will affect his long term health, how this could impact the number of children in our family… and we are still processing how we communicate with each other and how we bring this before the Lord. I think we are much better than we were last week at this time- more answers, less shock, more reassurance, less paralyzing fear. We really feel surrounded by our family, friends & community. And we have the cutest, most amazing children ever, which doesn’t hurt. And we celebrated the living Christ on Sunday- a deep & powerful Love for us that is over every dark & nasty thing we are dealing with. Christ isn’t changing the facts of the cancer in matt’s body- Christ is changing our hearts to hope & trust in His Good-ness through all of this. It doesn’t hurt less, but we know God is acting behind & in & through everything. (Please remind me that i said this- i am sure to forget on a regular basis).

Thank you for all your calls, notes, e-mails, flowers & cookies. Thank you most of all for your prayers- it is really amazing to be on the receiving end of such incredible care. i hope that we love all of you as well as you have loved us.